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Cablegate: A River Runs Through It: A Case Study in Libyan

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DE RUEHTRO #0635/01 2211407
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R 081407Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3763
INFO RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 0686
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 0742
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 0581
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 1183
RUEHVT/AMEMBASSY VALLETTA 0334
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 0463
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0567
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0883
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 4277

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000635

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 8/5/2018
TAGS: BTIO ECON EIND EINV SENV SOCI PGOV LY
SUBJECT: A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT: A CASE STUDY IN LIBYAN
INFRASTRUCTURE MANAGEMENT

CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, Charge d'Affaires , U.S. Embassy Tripoli, U.S. Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (d), (e) 1. (C) Summary: Libyan authorities are scrambling to address the side effects of a veritable river of untreated wastewater running through downtown Tripoli in an area near Muammar al-Qadhafi's compound. The project, and the urgency with which the government is seeking to address it, sheds light on the broader wastewater problem afflicting Libya and the government's ad hoc efforts to address the issue. The focus on mitigating the stench near al-Qadhafi's compound, as opposed to protecting the broader public's health, is also telling. The belated effort to tackle water and wastewater issues could create lucrative business opportunities for U.S. engineering and construction companies. End summary. 2. (C) Econoff met with a senior representative of the Biwater company in late July to discuss progress on their Libyan wastewater projects. Biwater Construction Limited is a Surrey, U.K.-based firm currently engaged in a turn-key program for the Libyan Public Works Authority to redevelop four wastewater treatment plants centered around the eastern Libyan city of al-Bayda. Econoff's interlocutor is a senior-level officer in the company. SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN TRIPOLI ... 3. (C) During a broader discussion of Libya's infrastructure needs, the Biwater representative said the Tripoli Public Works Authority recently approached Biwater with an urgent proposal that the company fix a problem stemming from a 1.8 meter diameter, 25 km-long pipe that runs through Tripoli. In particular, Libyan authorities are seized with repairs to a roughly 1 km stretch located close to Tripoli's city center, a section that runs parallel to Muammar al-Qadhafi's "Baab al-Azziziya" compound. 4. (C) The crux of the problem is that this pipe is leaking sewage and associated gases, and the smell has become decidedly pungent inside the al-Qadhafi compound. This has prompted panic among local authorities, who have been told that al-Qadhafi intends to spend a substantial portion of the holy month of Ramadan (which starts on/about September 1) at the Baab al-Azziziya compound. The Public Works Authority has been ordered to get rid of the smell by any means possible, and it is now scrambling to find a foreign contractor willing to take on the job. Senior GOL officials have apparently been tasked with fixing the problem, lending great urgency to the so far fruitless search for a foreign contractor. The companies approached by the GOL, including Biwater, have been told that they can "have whatever (future) contracts they want" if they can fix the odorous problem. A RIVER (OF SEWAGE) RUNS THROUGH IT 5. (C) The large-diameter pipe, constructed of concrete and asbestos, was laid 4 meters underground in a natural wadi (ravine) more than 30 years ago. Although it was designed and intended to be used to convey rainwater runoff from Tripoli's occasional storms, the local municipality and private Libyans have over time run thousands of sewage lines into it. The combination of fecal matter and heat generates sulphuric acid, which has degraded the integrity of the pipe. Libyan authorities estimate that there are six areas of leakage along the pipe's length, but given the age of the pipes and the profusion of sewage connections, Biwater assesses that there are many more leaks. Over time, the pipe's capacity has been increasingly taxed; it is now completely full, with an estimated average flow-rate of about 1 foot per second. Given standard engineering assumptions for pressure and fluid density, it is estimated that the pipe is now dumping approximately 1 million liters of untreated sewage a day into the Mediterranean Sea. 6. (C) Since the pipe was never intended to handle sewage, it empties directly into the sea along a stretch of coast just a few hundred yards west of the city's most heavily-peopled public beach. The stench from the flow and the damage to water and sand are obvious. Given the pipe's age and the pressure it is under, any attempt to fix it carries considerable risk of a major rupture, with attendant health threats for nearby residents and environmental impact. The Biwater representative described this as a looming "humanitarian crisis" for the city" and complained that Libyan authorities have so far only evinced concern with fixing the section of pipe adjacent to al-Qadhafi's compound, rather than addressing the broader issue of establishing a viable sewage and wastewater treatment plan for TRIPOLI 00000635 002 OF 002 the city. CLEAR EVIDENCE OF A LARGER PROBLEM 7. (C) Biwater estimates that there are eight major wastewater pipes currently running through Tripoli and into the sea. Most of these are linked to one of Tripoli's three main water treatment plants, but two of these are largely non-functional, and the third is running at half-capacity. Biwater estimates that roughly 10 million liters of untreated sewage is dumped into the sea just off Libya's coast every day. Representatives of U.S. engineering company AECOM, after conducting an initial Libyan wastewater treatment assessment in 2007, told Econoff that they had identified a total of 46 untreated sewage effluent sources nationwide with the help of Libyan authorities. Libya does not currently have the capacity to recycle wastewater for agricultural or other uses, so all water (mostly sourced from the ancient desert aquifers tapped by the Great Manmade River Project) that goes down the drain is routed directly into the Mediterranean Sea. Combined with subsidized rates for water usage and a lack of conservation measures, Libyans on average use twice as much water per annum as the average EU citizen, according to Biwater's statistics. The net result is that Libya, an extremely arid country, is spending considerable sums to pump water from the desert to the more densely populated littoral, where it is used once and then dumped into the sea. 8. (C) Comment: More than thirty years of neglect and poor infrastructure management have generated major needs for the redevelopment of Libya's infrastructure. U.S. companies are already starting to see some business opportunities to address these problems, and sizeable further projects are under discussion. The complexity and scope of these problems call for high-technology, high-end engineering solutions. U.S. firms, which Libyan officials have shown a particular interest in engaging in this sector, should be well-placed to tackle these engineering challenges and to secure potentially secure lucrative contracts to do so. End comment. STEVENS

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